November 28, 2019

A Day for Giving Thanks

"Thanksgiving"
Norman Rockwell
1919

"God grant that the spirit of gratefulness again became a national trait—that in between year-long demonstrations of unrest and complaint, we might be treated to occasional demonstrations of thankfulness."

Eric Sloane

"Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes"
Norman Rockwell
1945

"Thanksgiving is nothing if not a glad and reverent lifting of the heart to God in honor and praise for His goodness."
Robert Casper Lintner

"Ye Glutton"
Norman Rockwell
1923

"You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey"
Norman Rockwell
1917

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."
Frederick Keonig

"Refugee Thanksgiving"
Norman Rockwell
1943

"We are grateful for the land, and for the things upon the land which the Spirit has bestowed."

Native American Prayer

"Freedom From Want"
Norman Rockwell
1943

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Wishing you and yours a very blessed Thanksgiving.

A Day for Giving Thanks © November 2019

November 25, 2019

Burying the Solar Cable

Last time, I showed you how Dan wired the solar panels. The next step was running the cables which will connect the panels to the charge controller (which will connect to the batteries). For that we needed multi-stranded copper wire cables with solar connectors on the ends. We needed two, one for positive and one for negative.

Solar cables. More at Amazon.

Before I could buy them, I needed to know the correct size. Size depends on panel array voltage, amperage, distance from the batteries, and acceptable voltage loss (typically 3-5%). I ran our numbers through several online calculators and the results were all the same – size 12 American Wire Gauge (AWG).  Even so, larger cable would further minimize power loss, so I bought 10 AWG, which is the next larger size. If we had to go a farther distance, we would have used 8 AWG.

The cable comes in pairs, one black and one red. Since the connectors are already attached, it was just a matter of burying them. Of course, Dan had help.

Snoopervisor Meowy bossing the job.

It's a span of about 30 feet, but the ground was moist for easy digging.


Electrical codes dictate whether and how different types of cable can be buried. Ours is rated for either direct burial or in a conduit or raceway. Dan used PVC pipe because that's what he had.


Two 90-degree elbows finished it on the panel end.

Ready to plug in after all the parts are in place.

It goes under the driveway . . .

Checking trench width and depth.

. . . to where the battery box will be.

Battery box will go here, allowing enough room
to open the little crawlspace door on the right.

This will be a good spot for the batteries. It's outside, which is important for battery off-gassing. It's accessible, making it convenient for battery inspection and maintenance. It's close to where the freezer will be, which is on the back porch above the crawlspace door. It's shaded all day, which will help keep the batteries cooler in hot weather. In summer, Dan puts a vent fan in the crawlspace door, which means we can blow the crawlspace-cooled air across the batteries. That's very good considering how hot our summers can be. An added bonus is that we'll finally get that ugly last patch of the old exterior siding replaced! Yay! (This must have been what we were waiting for, lol.)

The next step is getting the batteries and building the box.

Burying the Solar Cable © November 2019

November 22, 2019

Wiring the Solar Panels

Last month we got the solar panels up.

Image from "The Solar Panels Are Up"

The next step was to research the best way to connect them and what we'd need to do it.

Image from "The Solar Panels Are Up"

Each panel has a pair of wires (technically cables) with connectors.

Back of solar panel.

One of the cables is positive, the other is negative. We had two options for connecting our three panels: in either series or parallel. There are advantages and disadvantage to each.

Series wiring connects negative to positive and positive to negative. This is the easiest configuration because it only requires plugging one panel into the next. It's a good choice for longer runs of cable and can use smaller gauge (less expensive) cable. This set-up multiplies the panels' voltages. Its disadvantage is that all panels must be in full sun. Even partial shade means no electricity. Or, if one panel isn't working properly none of them work, just like a string of Christmas tree lights.

Parallel wiring connects positive to positive and negative to negative. Its disadvantages are that it requires adapters and heavier gauge (more expensive) cable for longer runs. Its advantage is that it begins to produce electricity when any part of the array receives sunlight. It isn't up to 100% production until full sun, but at least it produces some. This set-up multiplies the panels' amps.

For us, parallel wiring makes the most sense for several reasons. The first is that we want to take advantage of whatever sunlight is hitting the panels, even with partial shade. The second is that we don't have a great distance between the panels and the battery bank.

Cables will be buried under the driveway and connect
the array to a battery box where the shelves are now.

We needed about 30 feet of cable to connect the solar panels to the battery bank. Dan will build a box for the batteries where the shelf unit is in the above photo.

The third reason is that we really don't need additional voltage. Each of our panels is rated for 57.3 volts (VMP). Multiplied by 3 panels that would be almost 172 volts. That would be overkill for the small 12-volt system we need to power our freezer and a chest fridge. (See "Solar Pantry Part 4: The Plan").

To connect the panels in parallel requires adapters.

Y branch parallel adapters. We bought them from Amazon.

They come in pairs, one negative and one positive. Connecting all three panels required two pair (for a total of four adapters, two positive and two negative).

One pair connects the first two panels together.

The other pair connects the first pair to the 3rd panel.

All 3 panels connected. These will plug into the cable
once the battery bank & charge controller are in place.

The next step is to bury the cable, so let the digging begin.


Wiring the Solar Panels © November 2019

November 18, 2019

Freeze-Dried Leaves for Goats

Last post ("Change of Seasons"), I showed you about our fall color and early glimpse of winter. Here's what a sudden drop in temperature into the low 20s does to the leaves still on the trees.

Pecan leaves from the half-dozen or so pecan trees in the barnyard. 

It shocks the trees into dropping them in a crunchy green blanket covering both barn roofs and barnyard.

Ellie and River

The're crunchy because they've been freeze-dried by the sudden cold. The goats really like them.

Miracle

Daisy

Miracle, Nova, and River (on the stump)

This doesn't happen every year, but when it does I collect as many bagfuls as I can. I store the bags in the hayloft and add the leaves to their hay from time to time.


Goats love variety and these make nice treats during winter when everything is bare. The ones in the barnyard are pecan leaves, but they also like oak, sweet gum, and poplar. Maple leaves aren't as popular.

River

The pecans are usually our last trees to lose their leaves. Looks like that's happening more quickly this year!

November 14, 2019

Change of Seasons

Autumn is officially here. After a several scattered frosts earlier in the month, I finally lost the summer garden to Jack Frost last weekend. Fortunately, I heeded of the weather warnings and gathered in the last of the tomatoes and peppers still on the vines.


The leaves have been changing too.



Our color is never very spectacular because of the kinds of trees we have.

Reds and yellows from the sweet gums.

More sweet gum.

Mostly we have silver maples, which turn an unspectacular
yellow. However, I get a few red maple leaves here and there.

More maples

Most of our oaks turn brown, but this one is red!

Dark red from the dogwoods.

The brightest red is the fire bush in our front yard.

The yellow is from Tulip poplars, which have lost their leaves.
By the end of the month, all leaves will have fallen to the ground.

Autumn may be short for us, however. My telltale sign isn't caterpillars, it's this particular cat choosing to sleep indoors at night!

Meowy

In the summer she only comes in if hunting hasn't been good. Then it's just to grab a few bites of food and she's off again. Sleeping inside is proof of cold nights! Lows in the 20s are unusual for us in November but that's what we've got! Winter's on the way!

What season are you enjoying? Autumn? Winter? Spring? Summer? Post some pictures and show us!


Change of Seasons © November 2019

November 10, 2019

Observation on the Time Change

So here we are, one week after they've changed from daylight savings back to standard time. That the whole time change business is a nuisance doesn't need to be said - we all know that. The critters especially don't care what the clock says. They "know" when it's time to eat!

My observation is that I seem to have "more" time now that we've gone back to standard. Maybe it's my inner clock still being attuned to daylight savings numbers, but it seems when I think it's time to go in or time for chores, I still have another hour of project time available. So while my days are actually shorter, they seem longer.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that? How does the time change feel to you?

November 6, 2019

Modest Success in Controlling Wiregrass

In my last blog post, 5 Principles of Soil Health: In the Garden, I mentioned some success in my ongoing battle with wiregrass. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you've likely heard me rant, whine, rage, complain about this problem. It's "real" name is Bermuda grass.

Cynodon dactylon. Indeterminate. Spreads by seed and stolen.

It's a popular lawn and pasture grass in my part of the country. It's ubiquitous—there's nowhere that it isn't—because it's heat and drought resistant, plus tolerates heavy traffic and mowing (or grazing). But it has a dark side: it's highly invasive and quickly becomes an extremely tenacious weed. It has a number of other names, but earned this nickname because it's tough as wire when you're trying to pull it out.

It's also impossible to get rid of. Even the "experts" admit that and at some point the southern gardener simply has to accept it as a fact of life and learn to live with it. It's the reason why we tilled for so long in the garden. Its roots choke out everything and become a compacted barrier to the soil. Dan would till and I'd rake out as much as I could before planting, in hopes of getting a harvest before the wiregrass took over.

All of that is to preface my "success," meaning I have by no means conquered wiregrass, I've merely managed to keep it at bay for the past year in some parts of my garden. Let me show you.

These are the swale beds I made last winter.


They were double dug to create swales in our clay subsoil, filled with organic matter of all sizes (tree limbs to twigs) layered with topsoil, woodchips, and compost. The goal was to not only improve the soil in the beds, but to catch and retain rainwater in the swales. (Details here.)


Between the beds I laid down cardboard and paper feedbags covered thickly with wood chips.

Walking aisle between two beds.

The miracle is, almost a year later, they haven't been taken over by wiregrass! I usually expect the wiregrass to regain control by late summer or early autumn.

So what's different here than in other parts of my garden? I know from years of experience that mulch alone will not keep wiregrass at bay.

Wiregrass happily growing up through a thick layer of woodchips.

Case in point - my asparagus bed. Actually, I gave up on asparagus several years ago. I kept having to relocate it because of wiregrass, and finally gave up. I covered the entire bed with a thick layer of woodchips and called it quits. But the asparagus was persistent and made a surprise showing this year. Trouble is, so did the wiregrass.

Asparagus on the left, competing with wiregrass &
blackberry vines. On the right, a walking aisle with
cardboard tucked under the border plus woodchips.

So what do these areas have in common? Firstly, there was a lot of trampling while double digging. Not much survived that. When the soil was dug and set aside, I removed all traces of wiregrass stems and stolens. Third, I didn't mulch the aisles with only leaves or chips; I put down a barrier - in my case cardboard and then a thick layer of mulch. These are the areas that have remained wiregrass free so far.


What I'm going to have to address for continued success is the main pathways down the length of the garden.

One of two large aisles. The black pipe is
for greywater drainage when we need it.

The main aisles get mowed but also can become overgrown quickly. The edges between these and the mulched aisles is where wiregrass reintroduces itself. It's those edges where the wiregrass sneaks back in.

Wiregrass creeping into a heavily mulched area between two beds.

I've got my winter's gardening project cut out for me. I hope to make two more swale beds, plus cover the main aisles with heavy cardboard and chip mulch. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate!

Is this a permanent solution? No! It will require diligent maintenance to stay on top of it. But after so many years of feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle, any reprieve is very welcome.